Welcome to Week Seven of the 2020 NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ seventh game of the 2020 season will take place at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey as they face the New York Jets. Here’s what you should know:
GANG GREEN’S DEFENSE IS BLITZ-INTENSIVE
New York’s defensive coordinator is former Bills head coach Gregg Williams, who has been well-traveled throughout his lengthy NFL career. Williams is known for employing aggressive, blitz-happy units that put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and has enjoyed immense success while retaining elements of the scheme that he learned from mentor Buddy Ryan.
“I took George Allen, I took Buddy Ryan, I took Dick LeBeau. I took Bud Carson. I put them all together and now it’s kind of a Gregg Williams way that we do things,” Williams told NFL Network in 2016. “But there’s more Buddy Ryan in everything I do defensively, schematically, than anything.
“I’ve used his 46 defensive principles everywhere I’ve been and have expanded upon it greatly. It’s been somewhat intimidating to an awful lot of coaches, because they think it’s complicated when it’s not. We still call it the ‘Bear’ defense. Why? Because Buddy Ryan was with the Bears when he did that.”
According to NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, Williams is so aggressive that, like Ryan before him, he will use unsound coverage principles on the back end to get to opposing quarterbacks.
“From a schematic standpoint, Williams will use every front in the book,” Brooks wrote in 2014. “At his core, though, he’s a 4-3 over/under guy. He implements a defensive audible system that adapts to offensive formations, allowing his guys to be in the best possible call on every down. Although the complex nature of the scheme puts a ton of pressure on the linebackers and safeties to make adjustments, it is a system that produces outstanding results when mastered.
“On passing downs, Williams certainly isn’t afraid to mix in a variety of blitzes from exotic looks – including some Okie fronts (3-4 or nickel 3-3 packages) – as well as the standard 4-2-5 nickel front. He will order up Cover 0 all-out blitzes in any area of the field, which makes him the ultimate gambler as a play-caller.”
Unfortunately for Williams the Jets have dealt with issues at the linebacker position in each of the last two years, which have compromised this unit’s effectiveness. Former Baltimore Raven C.J. Mosley – who missed most of last season with a groin injury – opted out of 2020 due to COVID-19, and Avery Williamson missed all of 2019 because of an ACL ailment. Williamson has played well since returning to the lineup, but the Jets’ other starters at the defense’s second level – Neville Hewitt and Tarell Basham – have been hit-or-miss.
New York also has shaky depth at cornerback. Beyond former Indianapolis Colt Pierre Desir – who is an underrated man-cover corner – the team’s depth chart is made up of Brian Poole, Quincy Wilson and Bless Austin.
Luckily for those defensive backs, the Jets have a solid safety tandem behind them to cover up for any mistakes. Former second-round pick Marcus Maye is a versatile and rangy safety who can do it all, and Bradley McDougald, acquired from the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for Jamal Adams, is none too shabby himself.
Up front, New York has two prototypes for run-stuffing defensive tackles in Henry Anderson and Quinnen Williams, the third-overall selection out of Alabama in 2019. Jordan Jenkins is the team’s best pass-rusher.
The Jets’ defense hasn’t been producing much this year. So far they rank 20th in the NFL in yards allowed and are fourth-worst in points allowed per game.
GASE’S OFFENSIVE SYSTEM HASN’T CHANGED MUCH
When Jets head coach Adam Gase was the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator in 2013 and ’14, he helped Peyton Manning and his stable of targets (Demaryius and Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Emmanuel Sanders) reach unprecedented heights – culminating in a record-breaking season in ’13 and a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII. Gase has taken that system with him to New York, and while he hasn’t had quite the same amount of success there and in previous stops in Chicago and Miami, it still has its merits.
In addition to a zone-based running game that is executed by aging future Hall of Famer Frank Gore and rookie La’Michael Perine, the Jets like to align their wide receivers and tight end – deep threat Breshad Perriman, shifty slot receiver Jamison Crowder and veteran Chris Herndon – in ways to help young starter Sam Darnold identify certain coverages. According to former MMQB/SI writer Andy Benoit, “No NFL coach loves any formation more than Gase loves an unbalanced three-by-one (three wide receivers to one side and a tight end alone on the other).
“The unusual distribution forces a defense to reveal if it is in man or zone coverage. It also creates opportunities to flood one side of the field or set up downfield crossing patterns.”
Darnold, a former third-overall draft pick out of USC, has decent mobility and solid arm strength, accuracy and intelligence. His elongated release and penchant for throwing interceptions have carried over from college, as he has thrown 32 interceptions in 30 NFL games.
Darnold operates behind a Jets offensive line that is in transition. Not a single member of New York’s offensive line was a starter for the team a year ago – save for left guard Alex Lewis. Center Connor McGovern, right guard Greg Van Roten and right tackle George Fant were all brought in via free agency, and rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton – a mountain of a man at 6’7” and 364 pounds – was drafted in the first round back in April.
The many changes to the Jets’ offensive line and wideout corps hasn’t panned out for New York. Last season they finished dead last in total offense, 31st in rushing and 31st in scoring, and so far in 2020 they are third-worst in total offense, last in passing and last in scoring.
The Jets are dealing with multiple injuries to this side of the ball. In addition to wideout Josh Doctson opting out of the season this past summer because of COVID-19, former Bill Chris Hogan is out, Crowder and Lewis are listed as doubtful going into Sunday’s game and Darnold, Becton and Fant are all questionable with various health issues. Should Darnold not get the starting nod under center, he will be replaced by former Super Bowl MVP and longtime Raven Joe Flacco.
BUFFALO’S DEFENSE UNCHARACTERISTICALLY STRUGGLING
Over the last two years the Bills’ defense had become one of pro football’s elite units. Led by stalwarts like Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Ed Oliver and Jerry Hughes – and supplemented this year by the free agent signings of Mario Addison, Quinton Jefferson, Vernon Butler, A.J. Klein and Josh Norman – last year’s defense ranked third overall in the NFL. Additionally, they were 10th against the run, fourth against the pass, seventh-best on third down, 10th in sack percentage, 10th in interception rate, second in points allowed and 12th in sacks.
But at various times throughout this season, Buffalo’s defense has struggled to stop both the run and pass. Granted, the league as a whole has seen defensive play decline in 2020, but given the amount of resources that general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott poured into creating more depth along the team’s front seven last offseason, it has been jarring to see the Bills take too many penalties and create very little in terms of a pass rush or being able to fill gaps against the run recently.
In each of the last two weeks, Buffalo allowed 139 yards on the ground to Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans and 245 yards to Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs also held onto the ball for 38 minutes last Monday, and 23 in the second half alone. Third down has also been an area of concern, as the opposition has converted more than 60 percent of the time against the Bills. As a result, their defense ranks just 23rd in the league in yards allowed and 21st in points allowed. Perhaps the offseason losses of Star Lotulelei (COVID-19), Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson (free agency) have hurt them more than they thought.
Schematically, the Bills’ defense mostly relies on basic zone coverages after the snap (mainly Cover Two and Four) but before the snap it is complex – safety rotations to disguise their coverages keep opposing quarterbacks guessing, selective pressure looks at the line of scrimmage and coverage exchanges at the snap are Sean McDermott’s calling card (those blitz looks are usually in the A-gaps from their linebackers – for more info on McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s unit, please read: https://fromthe300level.com/2018/08/pressure-package-how-the-late-buddy-ryan-has-influenced-the-buffalo-bills-defenses-for-over-20-years/?fbclid=IwAR3iYcnJ5qvl8shWHkZJVNO50VJXPeaEx8k0-Rk1VWV_Qx2OEfsAn2NY_ys).
This unit is a bit banged up going into Week Six. Cornerback Levi Wallace will miss a third straight game after being placed on injured reserve with an ankle ailment and Milano is questionable with a pectoral problem. Norman is also out with a hamstring issue. Additionally, White has been dealing with a nagging back and is listed as questionable.
BILLS’ OFFENSE SLOWED AFTER HOT START
Going into Week 11 last year, the Bills’ offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every major offensive category. To address this lack of production, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll moved from the field up to the press box to call plays and get a bird’s eye view of what was happening on the field.
The decisions to go upstairs and use more of an up-tempo attack paid off for the most part, as Buffalo got significant contributions from players like Josh Allen, Devin Singletary, John Brown and Cole Beasley over the last seven weeks of the season. The Bills also increased their usage of 11 personnel, resulting in better production as evidenced by the team employing the NFL’s eighth-best rushing offense.
The proof was in the pudding. According to Warren Sharp, before week 11 Buffalo had utilized 11 personnel on 63 percent of their snaps. From then on, that number increased to 81 percent, the most in the league. This year, Buffalo has changed that approach slightly by using 10 personnel (one back, no tight ends, four receivers) more often, but staying with 11 personnel as their base grouping.
However, the Bills’ inability to score points consistently – they averaged just 19.6 points per game – caught up to them in the playoffs against the Houston Texans. To address that problem, they went out and drafted running back Zack Moss – a solid back who runs with power – and traded for wide receiver Stefon Diggs from Minnesota, who is an exceptional route runner, excels in making contested catches and operates well out of bunch and stack formations. Those acquisitions resulted in the Bills scoring 30 points or more in three straight contests in 2020, the first time they had done that since 2011, and 27 points or more in four consecutive games – the first time they accomplished that feat since 2004.
But the last two weeks were perhaps Buffalo’s worst outings of 2020. Allen made some poor choices in the passing game – most of his struggles seemed to come when defenses would rotate their zone coverages and change the depth of their safeties at the snap, muddying what Allen was seeing from the pocket. That has resulted in the Bills falling from fourth in total offense to 15th and fifth in points-per-game to 17th.
There has also been some upheaval on the Bills’ offensive line. With Cody Ford and Brian Winters having replaced now ex-Bill Quinton Spain and the injured Jon Feliciano, Buffalo has struggled to create any sort of push along the line of scrimmage – culminating into one of the NFL’s least effective rushing attacks.
Buffalo’s offense is a Patriots-style system that’s built upon concepts involving option and crossing routes from the slot, downfield routes from the outside, designed quarterback runs to take advantage of Allen’s mobility, deep dropbacks and alignments that create favorable matchups (and some trick plays with jet/orbit motion and sweeps with Isaiah McKenzie). They have also used more pre-snap motion and expanded upon their play-action and screen game greatly this season.
Not to be outdone by their defensive counterparts, the Bills also have some players on offense who are dinged up going into their outing with New York. Tight end Dawson Knox is out with a calf injury and he and fellow tight end Lee Smith were recently place on the COVID-19 list. Brown and Ford are out for Sunday’s game with various health conditions.
- Diggs currently leads all AFC wide receivers in catches and receiving yards. He also could become the fourth player in the history of the Bills with four games of 100 yards or more in the team’s first seven games (the others are Eric Moulds in 2000, Andre Reed in 1989 and Frank Lewis in 1981).
- Allen has thrown two touchdowns or more in six straight games, the second-longest streak in franchise history to Jim Kelly’s seven stretching from 1991 through 1992.
- Allen also could break the team record for most passing touchdowns through seven games. He also could surpass Jack Kemp’s mark of 13 games with both a passing and rushing score.
- According to Chris Brown of buffalobills.com, the Bills’ opponents have seen their completion percentage steadily rise every week since opening day. Since Darnold completed 60 percent of his passes in Week One, opposing quarterbacks have completed 66, 72, 73, 75 and 81 percent of their pass attempts against Buffalo.
- Should McDermott emerge victorious on Sunday, he will surpass Wade Phillips for fourth in team history in career victories with his next win. Ahead of Phillips are Chuck Knox (37), Lou Saban (68) and Marv Levy (112).
- Four of the last six games between the Bills and Jets have come down to just single digits on the scoreboard, and both games last year were decided by a combined eight points.
- Punter Corey Bojorquez recorded the fifth-best punting average in a game in team history on Monday with his kicks averaging 53.25 yards – the best since Brian Moorman’s 57.83 against the Bears in 2006.
- Luckily for the Bills, they likely won’t have to deal with Crowder this week. Crowder has put up big numbers in his three meetings against the Bills going back to last year, compiling 29 catches for 282 yards and two touchdowns.
- Buffalo’s aiming for their first sweep of the Jets in five years.